Functional Movement and the Ability to Self-Rescue

Can you rescue yourself?

In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, I have felt numb. I want to say that my thoughts, prayers, and condolences go out to the families–which they most definitely do–but it feels too feeble to say that in the face of another superlative mass shooting, which I am sure will not be the last in this new reality of mass violence and terrorism.

This past week I have been haunted by the question of how the victims of the shooting knew what to do in that moment? How did they determine which way to run? If I were in that situation, would I have been able to determine which way to run? It got me thinking about whether or not I have the functional capacity to rescue myself and others in various emergency situations.

As I walk down the street now, I look at the city in a new and morbid light. Now I find myself wondering if there were a crisis at that very moment, what would be my best escape route? It makes me feel even more strongly how important a parkour or other functional movement practice is. I noticed many possibilities for escaping in nearly all situations, but unfortunately I realize that I am not necessarily physically prepared to make use of all of those possibilities. Are you? Answer honestly: in an emergency situation, could you save yourself?

How fast can you really run? Could you out-run someone who is chasing you? What if you were trapped inside a building? Would you be able to break a window or break down a door to get out? Could you ascertain the direction bullets were coming from?  And in the event of an active shooter, you would likely want to stay low to the ground and continue to  move away from the situation. Therefore, what is your endurance for crawling and other quadrupedal movement? Could you crawl for an extended distance? Could you get low enough to the ground to crawl under various fixtures? Do you already practice getting on and off the floor in your day to day life so that it would come easily to you, or have you given up under the belief that you’re too old?

What if escaping entailed jumping? Could you jump up high to a particular object if you needed to, say in the case of a car suddenly careening down the sidewalk? Could you leap over a medium barrier, or would you have to waste time running around it? Could you jump across several feet of distance? If you were on the roof of a burning building in a dense metropolitan city, would you be able to jump across the way and land precisely on the next building without falling to your death? And if you succeeded in jumping at any height or distance, could you land safely without breaking a leg or twisting an ankle? Or, if you did become injured, is the balance and strength of your remaining limb sufficient to carry you out of the situation? How often do you practice one-legged movements?

Practicing wall runs at parkour conference
Practicing wall runs at parkour conference

Would you be able to scale a wall or climb up some other structure? Could you pull yourself up to a ledge or over a wall or balcony? Could you climb up a tree? Could you swing yourself from one ledge to another? Could you lift someone else in the event of an emergency? If someone fell on the subway or train tracks, would you have the strength to lift them up? And if so, would you then have the strength to pull yourself back up? What if someone you were with broke a leg or passed out in a remote area? Would you be able to carry them for an extended distance? Would you be able to give them some basic first aid until you reached medical services?

Could you push a large, heavy object out of your way if you needed to? Or push a large, heavy object in order to block the path of an aggressor? If your car broke down within yards of the nearest mechanic’s shop or gas station, could you push it the rest of the way? Can you balance on a narrow object, such as a rail? Can you hang from an object for an extended period of time? Could you swim across a river to reach the other shore if that were the safest exit from the situation? How long could you tread water for if it came to it? If extreme weather conditions caused the power to go out for days or weeks, does your body have sufficient ability to thermo-regulate so that you would not suffer adversely in uncontrolled climate conditions? If you were lost in the wilderness or facing some extreme food security issues, would you be able to identify plants that are safe to eat? Could you find potable water? Could you trap or hunt animals if absolutely necessary? Could you build a shelter or a fire? Would you be able to determine cardinal directions without a smartphone, compass, or other navigational device? Could you fend off a bear or other wild animal?

Honestly, I am not satisfied with my own answers to these questions. Almost none of these skills are needed on a regular basis today in our very domesticated world, and yet I would argue that these are essential skills that everyone should know. True, in most instances today you won’t need them, but in the rare event that you do, it could mean the difference between life or death for you or someone else. I would hate to be in an emergency situation and realize that I don’t have the physical ability or the knowledge to save myself simply because these skills have been deemed outmoded. I would rather practice running, jumping, hanging, lifting, pushing, crawling, and climbing to the point that I can do these things easily and successfully in a high-stress situation without strain or injury. Hopefully I won’t need these abilities, but if I do I want them to be second-nature so that I will not feel completely helpless in the face of danger.

Our most basic instinct above all else is for self-preservation, and so we should continue to practice the innate, functional movements that are most associated with survival. While these movements may seem obsolete in our post-industrialized society, they continued to be needed in the larger world and in occasional instances when post-industrialized civilizations temporarily break down, as in mass violence attacks and weather catastrophes. Just as you take out insurance for occasional calamities that may or may not befall your body, home, or car, so too should you practice functional movement as a form of insurance against other eventualities that may or may not come to pass. But like all insurance, if and when they do, you’ll be very glad you have it.

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